Poland and Colombia both go into Sunday’s face-off needing a win to kick-start their respective World Cup campaigns.
The two Group H favourites both lost their opening games, making their meeting a near must-win clash for both sides, and the players will want to step up and take on that responsibility.
Here are the key player battles which will determine the game.
Robert Lewandowski vs Radamel Falcao
Lewandowski had a poor performance against Senegal in Poland’s loss. He had fewer touches of the ball than the Senegal goalkeeper, and rarely got into position to be a real threat for his side. Poland’s playmakers were nullified, which had an impact on Lewandowski’s display, but he needs to step it up to save his country’s World Cup hopes.
In contrast, Falcao’s only failure in Colombia’s loss to Japan was that he fell just short of being brilliant. He led the line admirably considering his side were down to 10 men only three minutes into the game. It was his work that earned the free-kick from which Colombia scored their goal, typical of his display in that game.
Jakub Blaszczykowski vs James Rodriguez
Blaszczykowski was another whose performance was sub-par in the loss to Senegal. Tasked with being one of the creative forces for his side, he offered neither incisive passing nor threatening running down the flanks. His waning pace is a factor in the latter case, but he can provide better inter-play with his team-mates and better service for Lewandowski.
James was unable to start for Colombia against Japan as he was carrying a calf injury, and although he looked lively after coming on as a second-half substitute, he had little real impact. But he’s likely to start on Sunday, and he knows the responsibility of leading his team to victory, and saving their World Cup hopes, lies with him.
Lukasz Piszczek vs Santiago Arias
The Borussia Dortmund right-back put in an awful display against Senegal, looking overrun by the opposition attack and not providing enough thrust going forward. His defensive shakiness is something Colombia will target, James especially as he likes drifting out to the wings. If Piszczek can’t hit the levels he finds often for his club, Poland will be in trouble.
Santiago Arias delivered a fighting performance as part of a back-line put under extra pressure by the early red card to midfielder Carlos Sanchez against Japan. His attacking impact was limited, but he defended well for the most part, although it was he who was beaten for Japan’s winner. He’ll want to atone for that error on Sunday.
Neymar has “totally recovered” from the injury that kept him out for three months at the end of the club season, according to Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar.
“I would like everyone to understand Neymar’s situation, and that he no longer has any problem with his right foot,” Lasmar told journalists on Saturday at Brazil’s World Cup training base in Sochi.
“He has totally recovered but he is still building up his rhythm and his confidence. He is feeling better with every game.”
There were fears that he was still feeling the effects of the metatarsal fracture he’d suffered while on duty for Paris Saint-Germain in February after he limped out of training last week following Brazil’s 1-1 draw against Switzerland in their tournament opener.
However, he started their second game and scored Brazil’s second goal in a 2-0 win over Costa Rica.
“The problem with his left ankle is not something that worries us. Tomorrow (Sunday) he will train normally with the rest of the players,” Lasmar added.
Concerns over Neymar’s fitness have also been heightened due to the treatment that has been meted out to the Brazil star in Russia, after he was fouled 10 times against Switzerland and another four times against Costa Rica.
Lasmar echoed those complaints, saying, “Opponents commit fouls to try to stop him. We expect the refereeing to contain that.”
Meanwhile, Juventus winger Douglas Costa, who came on at halftime of Brazil’s win over Costa Rica, has been ruled out of the team’s final group match, against Serbia, with a thigh injury.
Brazil need to draw that game to secure their spot in the Round of 16.
Germany coach Joachim Loew described his side as “lucky” after Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to revive the defending champions fading World Cup hopes with a dramatic 2-1 win over Sweden.
Marco Reus’ maiden goal at the tournament to equalise Ola Toivonen’s first-half strike in Sochi looked set to give the defending champions a slim chance of progressing to the knockout phase.
Then, despite Germany being down to 10 men after Jerome Boateng’s red card, midfielder Kroos scored from a short free-kick move in the fifth minute of added time to break Swedish hearts.
“The victory was a lucky one in stoppage time and we came from behind,” Loew told German broadcaster ARD.
“In the end, it was deserved because we believed in ourselves and stuck at it. We proved we have good morale in the squad and Sweden actually only had two chances.
“Mistakes like that happen even to Toni Kroos, so I am pleased that he then scored the goal.
“Today we saw far fewer bad passes than we had against Mexico and when we push so much forward, a mistake can always lead to conceding a goal.”